3 Tips to Meal Plan Your Way to Savings at the Grocery Store

3 Tips to Meal Plan Your Way to Savings at the Grocery Store

We’ve all heard this advice: “Don’t ever shop for groceries on an empty stomach.”

With rising food prices, we can’t afford to make unplanned – hunger motivated- purchases.  It’s time to meal plan.

Grocery shopping without a meal plan, can lead to buying food we don’t need – and those purchases often don’t support our health and fitness goals!  

I’m sure you’ve been there: Your fridge is empty and you have 2 hours before you have to pick up the kids. So you rush to the closest store and just start grabbing food and tossing it in the cart. .You don’t look for items on sale, you don’t check prices at other stores, and you don’t pay close attention to quantities. You definitely grab a few things you hadn’t planned to buy because now your empty stomach is making the decisions for you.  

The results: 

  • You spend more than you want to.
  • You leave with high-calorie “convenient” items you don’t actually need.
  • Your “anything goes” choices aren’t matched to your fitness goals.
  • You buy too much food. This will drive up your costs if it spoils before you eat it or it will derail your fitness plan if you overeat to avoid waste.

With a solid plan, you can make choices that support your healthy habits and reflect your budget. 

✅ No mindless shopping!

✅ No food waste!

✅ No overspending!

The absolute best way to maximize your savings is to plan your meals for the month. Sounds daunting?  Keeping it SIMPLE is the key here.  Start with a plan for one week.  Save that plan.  Then, use it to build the next week with some small changes:  Swap in new recipes, new veggies and fruits, and include different flavors/seasonings.  Now you have a template for a second week.  And so on until you have a 4-5 week menu that you can repeat!  

Need a few new quick and easy recipe ideas to use in your monthly meal plan? Check out one of our favorite sites The Real Food Dietitians for their lunch and dinner favorites!

Every planned meal is going to help you with your budget because you will make a concise shopping list.  And with meals on the calendar, you can break down your grocery shopping into two manageable pieces: monthly buying and weekly buying.

Plan, Budget and Save

Everything starts with your weekly meal plan. After you create it, you can make weekly lists.  You can also start to create a “staples’ list with the items you know that you use regularly including spices, condiments, pantry items and frozen basics.  

Planning and keeping your menus simple and repeatable is KEY to saving money at the grocery store.   In no time, you’ll become a “routine machine,” and you’ll be able to dial in your budget. 

For example, if you know you have $800 for food in the month, you might determine that you’ll spend $300 in one monthly trip and then $125 a week. With that data, you can then make adjustments when sales or bulk opportunities pop up.

Feeling overwhelmed?  Start small!  Plan out the next three days and then get only the food you need to execute the plan. You won’t get the maximum savings of a monthly plan, but you’ll have a reusable “three-day block” to drop into a work-in-progress monthly plan for the future. Think of any period of planning as a LEGO block you can use to create a larger plan for healthy eating and cost cutting.

For additional tips on planning for a successful week, click here.  

Monthly Purchases 

Frequently used ingredients should be purchased in bulk at discount stores. These are the items that show up in many meals and won’t not perish if they’re stored properly.  A few examples: oatmeal, pancake mix, condiments, egg whites (keep an eye on these—they don’t last forever), canned food, frozen vegetables and fruit, and so on. 

You can also look at buying meat in bulk if you have freezer space. Then package smaller quantities in freezer-safe bags that reflect the meals you’ll make in the month. Just make sure you plan for the week in advance: Get the frozen meat into the fridge ahead of time so it can thaw for cooking!

Some of these “monthly items” might even be purchased every other month if they’ll keep for a long time. And if you have a family member or friend who is on the same nutrition wavelength, you might find opportunities to make even larger purchases that reduce price further. You’ll then split the food—and cost. 

Costco and wholesale-club stores are often great places to save money on monthly purchases.

Weekly Purchases

Some items—especially fresh, healthy choices—might not last anywhere near a month, and we don’t want food to go to waste. The USDA estimated food waste at 30-40 percent of the food supply at a cost of $161 billion in 2010. If you’re throwing food out regularly, you can save a lot of money with proper planning.

This is where your weekly shopping trips come in.. If you know what you’ll eat every week, you can make focused trips to get the required amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, etc.. If anything goes bad before you get to it, adjust the list so the next haul is spot on. 

If you compare prices and clip a few coupons, you can likely find significantly cheaper prices at certain stores. As you get into a rhythm of weekly shopping, you’ll be able to spot peaks and valleys in prices, and you might even make some clever, budget-friendly substitutions. Romaine lettuce is expensive this week but spinach is on sale? Maybe you can adjust a recipe and save a few bucks.

In some cases, you might also see a great deal on certain items that you want to stock up on and remove from your monthly list. Supermarkets often blow items out without a lot of warning, and you might be in the right place at the right time—just be sure you aren’t buying for the sake of buying. Stick to your meal plans: Only buy sale items if they’re already part of the plan.

The keys to it all: meal plans and grocery lists. 

You don’t want to sprint out of the store vegetable-free but carrying three overpriced, less-than-nutritious frozen dinners and a cheesecake for dessert. That could happen if you shop with an empty stomach and no plan!

With weekly shopping on a meal plan, your biggest saving will be found in three places:

1. You’ll waste less food because you’re buying the right quantities at the right time.

2. You’ll always have food in the house so you aren’t tempted to order a $50 pizza because you didn’t plan ahead.

3. You’ll be able to take advantage of unpublicized sales on items you already need.

If you need help matching up healthy eating habits with your fitness goals, you know we’re just a click away. Contact us!

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